Full Text for Exodus- Volume 30 - How does the revelation of God's name fit in with God's commissioning of Moses? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY EDUCATION NETWORK EXODUS DR. DAVID ADAMS #30 Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. 10 E. 22nd Street Suite 304 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *** >> When I read this account, what struck me was the revelation of the name "I am that I am." If the main point of the text is the announcement of the mission God is sending Moses on, how does the revelation of God's name fit in with that? >> Nick, I think that the easiest way to answer that is to begin by remembering where this occurs in the text. Remember, this is not that portion of the text where God identifies himself to Moses when they first meet. There, as you'll recall, God identifies himself by saying, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." Rather, this revelation of the divine name occurs as God's response to Moses' second objection in the text. So it's not as we saw earlier the main focus of this text. But the real question is: How are we to understand this discussion between God and Moses here? At this point it's helpful to know that in the ancient world, knowing the name of a god is necessary to invoke the god in magical rights. In fact, it's very common in the ancient world to think that knowing the name of a god gives you a sense of control over the god. Or at least the ability to manipulate or manage the god somewhat. There's a great little story in Egyptian mythology that illustrates this power. You know that one of the most important gods in the Egyptian pantheon is the god Horus, usually pictured as a hawk. What you may not know is that the eye of Horus is actually a separate god all by himself. And that god who is the eye of Horus is called the Eye of Horus. And you've seen it probably in Egyptian iconography. It's usually just pictured with an eye with an eyebrow over it. And it's a very common graphic or image in Egyptian iconography. But the story is that the Eye of Horus was out wandering around one day -- don't press the details here -- and another goddess tried to trick the eye into revealing his real name. And the story tells us that the reason the goddess wanted to know the real name of the Eye of Horus was so that she could manipulate him or get him to do something. She actually wanted him to do something for her to influence another god or goddess, I forget exactly which. But the point is clear: That if you know the name of a god, you can both employ that name in magical ritual acts but you can also to a certain extent manipulate the god and manage it by knowing the name. Now, I'm not suggesting that's what Moses was thinking here. But it's important to understand that this is the cultural and religious context from which Moses is coming as a member of the Egyptian royal family which he was raised. So in asking to know the name of God, at the very least Moses is seeking to understand more about God than God intended to reveal to Moses at this time. Remember, this is very early in the relationship between God and Moses. This is the first time that Moses has met God and the first time that they've had a discussion. And so Moses naturally wants to learn all that he can. And God doesn't want to reveal too much to Moses because he doesn't want to give him too much at one time. Over the course of the book, God reveals more and more about himself to Moses as the story unfolds. But here at the beginning, God simply emphasizes the plan that he has for Moses. And he doesn't really want to tell Moses any more than that. So that when Moses asks for an answer, God gives him an answer that's really sort of a non-answer. He says -- and most translations translate this "I am that I am" or something like that. Now, this translation, "I am that I am," has been understood in a variety of ways by commentators. The two most common explanations for this name are first an assertion of God's self existence. Namely, the fact that God is. That is to say he exists. He doesn't depend upon anyone else. But he has the power of self existence within him. He doesn't depend upon anything else. That's certainly one possible understanding of the name. The other most common explanation of the name is that it's a slight mistranslation. That it shouldn't be I am but what it should be is I cause to be what I cause to be. Now, the difference in Hebrew is really just one vowel. And remember, the vowels weren't written in the original text. So the argument is that hundreds of years later by the time the Mazarites got around to adding the vowels to the consonantal text, they just added the wrong vowel in this case. Now, I don't want to go into the technical discussion about the Hebrew with this. But my own sense is that's not a very good argument. And the reason I think it's not a very good argument is there's nothing else in the context here that has anything to do with God as creator. So I would expect that if God's point was to reveal himself to Moses as creator, there would be something else in the text that would connect to that in some way. Since there's not anything else in the text that connects to this or builds upon it, I'm not all that inclined to think that's a very strong argument. My conclusion as I look at this is actually different from either one of those. I think the problem that most people have in understanding this text correctly is that the common English translation "I am that I am" is actually a bad translation. Without again, going into a great detail about the Hebrew here, it's my view that this phrase should really be translated "I will be who I will be." And here is the reason that I think that: First, it fits the Hebrew usage much better. This particular verb that is translated I am here in Exodus 3 is never used anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible for the present tense. It's always used for the future tense in every other occurrence in the Hebrew Bible. So if you think it should be present tense here, I am, this is the only place in the Hebrew Bible that it occurs that way. So on the basis of that grammar and usage, I'm inclined to think that the regular normal future translation "I will be," is a better translation here. But that's not the only reason that I think so. I think that this future translation "I will be who I will be" does what God is intending to do in this passage much better than the standard translation. Because the answer that God gives Moses is really a sort of non-answer answer. He says basically "I will be who I will be." In other words, I'm not really going to tell you everything that you want to know about me at this point. God preserves his illusiveness. In theology we refer to this as the ***daus abscontatus, the hidden God, from the Latin. As you may know, those of us who do theology for a living like to use Latin whenever we can. The reason for that is we spent years and years learning it. And we don't want to feel that we spent all of that time for nothing. So we throw out as much Latin as we can. Well, all right. So I was being a little flip. But truthfully, this theme of the daus abscontatus or the hidden God is a very important concept in theology in general. And it's one that occurs several times in the book of Exodus. In various discussions between God and Moses, Moses is always pressing God to learn more about who God is. And in almost every case, there is an expression of the illusiveness or hiddeness of God in the text. Even in Chapter 34 of Exodus where we get the fullest description of who God is, God preserves his illusiveness by saying to Moses "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy and I will show grace to whom I show grace." So throughout the book of Exodus there is this theme of discussion between God and Moses in which Moses always wants to know more. And God is always giving him a little bit more. But never giving him enough to in a sense satisfy Moses. Because Moses wants to know everything about God. And God sort of reveals himself gradually, bit by bit to Moses. So with those three factors in mind: The normal usage of the Hebrew text, the significance of the daus abscontatuc theme both in the book of Exodus and throughout biblical theology and, thirdly, the way that these passages develop throughout the book of Exodus, I'm convinced that the way we should read this text is not "I am that I am" but rather, "I will be who I will be." And that we should understand it as a way of God revealing himself to Moses and yet preserving his illusiveness and hiddeness at the same time. *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***